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Family of fallen Springfield officers call for changes to Black Lives Matter mural

Survivors of officers killed in the line of duty told us that it is a letter in that mural that they want changed, and that is the letter ‘T.’
Published: May. 18, 2022 at 10:25 PM EDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WGGB/WSHM) - Family members of fallen officers in Springfield are calling attention to a controversial mural in the city.

The words “Black Lives Matter” are painted on the side of a building on Worthington Street, but it is not those words that have them upset.

Survivors of officers killed in the line of duty told us that it is a letter in that mural that they want changed, and that is the letter ‘T,’ which depicts blood stains dripping down a thin blue line flag.

“It’s disrespecting them and it hurts us to see it there,” said Doris Beauregard-Shecrallah.

Reading “Black Lives Matter,” the artwork is painted on the side of a building on Worthington Street. You can see the ‘T’ depicts a thin blue line flag, known to represent police officers, painted with skulls and blood dripping down the side.

“Yes, there are cops out there who do wrong things and bad things, but there’s no need to paint the whole realm of police officers as crooked, bad, and corrupt,” said Maura Schiavina. “It’s just not true.”

Doris Beauregard-Shecrallah’s husband and Maura Schiavina’s brother were working together as partners in the city of Springfield when they were shot and killed in the line of duty.

“Their blood was shed on the streets to protect and to serve the city of Springfield, and to have that there is disheartening,” Beauregard-Shecrallah said. “It’s upsetting, and we want help in getting it removed.”

The women told us that the history of the flag is meant to honor officers.

“The thin blue line is pretty much the police protecting from evil and bad things,” Schiavina said.

We took their concerns to others who worked on this mural. We were told that 16 artists worked on the piece, each getting to paint their own letter with whatever they wanted.

Marc Austin was one of the artists who worked on it, and he told us the piece was created in 2020. He believes the artist was trying to tell a story of what was going on in the country at the time.

“I got the sense that he was more so just telling the story of the victims with the ‘T’,” Austin said. “He didn’t mean it to go against the police or the police department or law enforcement.”

Austin added that he thinks it is important that artists be allowed to express themselves.

“Changing the mural is changing the message that he had intended, and that’s a first amendment right that needs to be protected” he said.

Britt Ruhe, the director of Common Wealth Murals, was a member of a committee of people who organized the project. She told us they had several conversations with the families who were upset by it.

“It’s really hard to know that it’s causing pain to these families,” she said, “and I think that it’s the conversations that happened between those families and the committee and the larger community that participated that were really meaningful.”

Ruhe told us that none of them were aware of the origins of this flag, but instead, what it had been used for.

“The blood dripping down behind, the bloody handprints on the letter, are to represent people’s pain and suffering. The flag in this letter was to represent efforts to stifle our expression of conversation and free speech,” she explained. “The counter-protests to the Black Lives Matter movements were the ones who originally misused this symbol, I think, in their counter-protests, and he was reflecting that.”

She said the committee has decided to create a plaque next to the artwork to provide context.

“Art is symbolism,” Ruhe said. “Art is not a mandate; it is not a law. It is an expression of the times.”

Ruhe told us that the committee is hoping to have the plaque up next to that Black Lives Matter mural by the end of June, and Austin told us that he is offering his hand out to law enforcement in the community to work together on a mural for the city if they are interested.